The Month in Mines, January 2017

At this year’s Academy Awards, the Danish film, “Land of Mine,” was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture.  “Land of Mine” (Under Sandet in Danish) lost to the Iranian film, “The Salesman,” but garnered quite a bit of attention for its subject: in the days after World War II, the Danish government forced German prisoners of war to clear the landmines placed on Danish soil during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  I haven’t seen it yet, but as a fact-based account, I am looking forward to this film.  Other the flip side and made of pure hokum, is “Mine” starring Armie Hammer as a US military sniper who steps on a landmine and hears the fateful, “click,” as the mine arms itself.  Hammer then has to survive for 52 hours on the same mine as he waits for rescue. We’ve covered this before, but landmines don’t go “click,” they just explode.  Having them go click may be a good trick for heightening narrative tension, but it is also supremely lazy writing.

Check out “Kilo Two Bravo.”  Like “Land of Mine,” “Kilo Two Bravo” is based upon real events, specifically the experiences of a British army unit in Afghanistan which, during a routine patrol of a dry riverbed near the Kajaki dam, wanders into a minefield.  The mines don’t go click.  They wait like silent predators, unseen and unmarked, until they are disturbed.  The filmmakers treat the landmines like monsters in a horror movie which is what “Kilo Two Bravo” is: a modern monster movie with tragic, terrible and real outcomes.  The soldiers try desperately to save one another and incur additional injuries in the process, but steadfastly refuse to withdraw until they are all rescued.  The audience knows the mines are there but it is still a shock when they detonate because landmine explosions are inherently shocking.  Writing gimmicks are not needed to heighten the tension, the facts of the situation facing the characters creates its own tension.  A very good, if tough movie, which shows the true horror of these weapons.

 

South Africa

A woman living on the border with Zimbabwe was gardening in her yard when she detonated a landmine that had been left behind when the area was a military base in the Apartheid era.  The woman was injured in the arm and face. This incident followed one a year earlier when a person was killed salvaging scrap metal in the same area (All Africa).

 

Uganda

A suspected landmine from the Lord’s Resistance Army severely injured six children in Pader District who found the explosive and were striking it with sticks (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

A Biafran War-era landmine was discovered in Ebonyi state, sparking panic that it might be an improvised explosive device (IED), until the item’s actual provenance was confirmed by local police.  The police also searched the nearby area but found no other explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa).

 

Kenya

In further news of relics from long ago wars, herders in Kenya’s Samburu county found two bombs in an area that had been a British army training post during the colonial period.  The bombs were reported to the police who collected them for destruction. There have been many such discoveries of abandoned munitions in the area, some made by children tending herds (All Africa).

 

Mali

Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in the central Mopti region of the country (Agence France Press).  Three other Malian soldiers were killed and fourth injured by a landmine as the soldiers traveled to the northern city of Gao (The News).

 

Algeria

One child was killed and seven others wounded by an ERW.  The children found the item in the woods near their home which is southwest of Algiers and was thought to be a stronghold for Islamist rebels during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s (Maghreb Emergent).

In much better news for Algeria, the nation declared that all known border minefields and anti-personnel landmines have been cleared, fulfilling the Mine Ban Treaty obligations under Article 5.  During the course of the work, almost 9 million mines were destroyed and 62,000 hectares of land were cleared.  Algeria joins Tunisia as the second North African state to achieve this milestone (Africa Times).

 

Libya

A military messenger was killed by a landmine in the western part of the city of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Landmine and ERW clearance in Benghazi has been extremely dangerous and several deminers from military engineering units have been killed and injured by explosives laid by Islamic State members as booby traps (Arab 24). An explosive booby trap claimed the life of a special forces volunteer when he was searching and clearing a house in Benghazi (Al Wasat). As Libyan forces made progress towards liberating Benghazi, a brigade commander was killed in the Ganfouda neighborhood (Libya Herald).  A second unit commander was killed by a landmine just as the army declared Ganfouda liberated, leaving only “mopping up” operations to fully secure the city of Benghazi (Libya Herald)

 

Angola

Twenty years ago this month, a divorced mother of two boys took a walk through a field.  Photos show her walking alone, although there were large contingents of deminers and reporters close by.  This brief walk, maybe a couple hundred meters and just a minutes, showed that humanitarian demining worked and could be trusted to make land safe for even the most famous woman in the world, Princess Diana.  The government of Angola, the HALO Trust (Diana’s host for that walk), and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, gathered to recognize the anniversary of Diana’s minefield walk and re-commit to a mine-free Angola.  The United States committed an additional US $4 million to landmine clearance as the participants in the event recognized that landmines still pose a danger to Angolans, as evidenced by the death of a child from an anti-tank mine a couple months earlier in a town just a few kilometers away (HALO Trust, Relief Web)

Elsewhere in Angola, a mine-risk education campaign in southern Cunene province targeted school children and shoppers at local markets to reduce the likelihood of accidents (ANGOP).

 

Egypt

In the World War II battle of El Alamein, the tank battalions of Great Britain and Germany famously faced off, but they were not alone.  On the German side could be found many Italian soldiers, and the legacy of that Italian involvement is still being recognized.  A decade ago, an Italian Air Force officer found minefield maps that were shared with the Egyptian government and some amateur and professional Italian historians are scouring wartime diaries and journals to uncover more information that may be of help to the Egyptian government in its demining efforts.  Now, satellite images are being used to further refine the information in those maps as battlefield locations are pinpointed (The Daily Beast).

Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation announced the establishment of a national center for mine action that will clear 150,000 acres of landmines from the northern coast.  The center will also provide mine risk education and support survivor assistance with the creation of a prosthetics facility (Daily News).

 

Western Sahara

A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).

 

South Sudan

Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, the contamination from ERW has increased, especially in Bentiu and Upper Nile States.  Equatoria State remains heavily contaminated from ERW from the civil wars when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan (Eye Radio).

 

Michael P. Moore

February 28, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, May 2016

New wars and old wars, old wars and new wars.  We continue to face the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war from old wars, while rebel groups rely on landmines and improvised explosive devices to conduct asymmetrical wars in the present.  In most countries we talk about here in these pages, the country falls into one group or another.  A few places, Algeria is an example we see this month, faces the old and the new threats.  It is my hope that this is a limited club and not a growing one.  We shall see.

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army has begun yet another push into the Boko Haram-held Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria.  At a Nigerian military check-point on the Bui-Damboa road, a vehicle struck an artisanal landmine killing five people and injuring three others.  The proximity of the mine to a Nigerian check-point suggests the military needs to be more vigilant when establishing their positions (All Africa).  In Yobe state, seven people who had been displaced by Boko Haram and have since been able to return to their homes were killed by a landmine in their agricultural fields.  The local government has responded with  mine risk education program (Punch). Landmines have also been placed in the farmlands of Borno state and five farmers were killed by a mine, even though the Nigerian military supposedly had cleared the area. Because of the danger, many farmers are refusing to go to their fields despite the fact that they have no other means of support (Pulse).

 

Angola

The Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration thanked the media for its role in raising awareness about landmines and other explosive remnants of war (All Africa). The EU ambassador to Angola, Gordon Kricke, promised additional financial support for landmine clearance in the eastern provinces of Moxico, Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte and Cuando Cubango (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, the Angolan army hosted mine risk education sessions in several schools (All Africa).  In Zaire province, the National Demining Institute complete clearance work for the the Nzeto / Mbanza Congo power line having found six pieces of unexploded ordnance in the process (All Africa).  In Moxico province, MAG handed over two cleared minefields to the community after 320 landmines and other explosive remnants of wars were removed (MAG).

 

Cameroon

The Cameroon Bar Association issued its report on violations of human rights including Boko Haram’s use of anti-personnel landmines which violates the fundamental right to life (All Africa).  At a military funeral, the Cameroon army paid its respects to 13 soldiers who died fighting against Boko Haram, some of who were killed by landmines (All Africa). In addition to the dead, at least thirty Cameroonian soldiers are being treated for injuries that range from snake bites to landmine blasts (Citizen Digital).

 

Zimbabwe

Almost US $5 million is required to clear the minefield that marks the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in Gonarezhou National Park.  The acting coordinator of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center noted the need for funds to buy basic equipment like metal detectors.  300 people have been killed by mines in the park since 1980 along with hundreds of wild and domestic animals (All Africa).  The leader of the Prophetic Healing Ministries warned his followers about the dangers of trying to extract red mercury from landmines, saying that red mercury is a hoax (All Africa).

 

Tunisia

Two women were killed and a third injured by a landmine placed in the Samam mountain on the border with Algeria (Reuters).

 

Mali

Two Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle hit a landmine on the road between Gossi and Hombori in the north of the country (Fox News). In another incident, Chadian peacekeepers were ambushed north of Aguelhok in the Kidal region.  The convoy the peacekeepers were traveling with struck a landmine and then gunmen opened fire.  Five peacekeepers were kill and three injured (The Nation).

 

Libya

Three Libyan soldiers were killed and two wounded by a landmine in Sirte, during an operation to defeat the Islamic State rebels (Libya Observer).  An eleven year-old girl who tried to flee the fighting in Sirte was grievously injured by a landmine and required 17 hours of surgery by six surgeons to be stabilized (Libya Observer).

 

Somalia

Police in the southern city of Kismayo found and cleared a landmine from a major road (Garowe Online). In Mogadishu a landmine detonated near a government checkpoint injuring five people, two soldiers and three civilians (Horseed Media). In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two Puntland soldiers were killed and three more injured as tried to defuse a landmine in Galgala (Garowe Online).

 

Uganda

A landmine attributed to the Lord’s Resistance Army was found in the middle of a road in the Teso region, some 13 years after the LRA invasion.  After closing the road, the police cleared the mine (All Africa).

 

Algeria

The Algerian government announced the clearance of over 2,000 landmines planted by the French colonial authorities during the liberation war.  In addition to the ongoing clearance activities, Algerian counter-terrorism forces found and cleared a landmine being used to protect an Islamist hideout (Strategy Page).

 

Michael P. Moore

June 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

 


The Month in Mines, April 2016

April 4th is the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness and there were many celebrations and observances of the day.  The United Nations Mine Action Service has compiled stories and photos here and they are worth checking out.  Some of the stories below came out because of the April 4th observance and the extra attention that day provides to mine action, but all too many stories also reflect the fact that landmines continue to threaten lives and limbs across the Continent.

 

Mali

Three French soldiers serving in Mali as part of a stabilization mission were killed by a landmine in the northern part of the country.  One soldier died immediately while the other two succumbed to their injuries after a day. The soldiers were traveling in a convoy of vehicles from the town of Gao when their vehicle struck a mine (BBC News).

 

Zimbabwe

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued its support of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZIMAC) through the donation of protective equipment, metal detectors and mine risk education materials.  Since 2012, the ICRC has been the primary sponsor and support of ZIMAC which is responsible for clearing landmines from Zimbabwe’s national park lands; the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) are clearing other parts of the country.  The government of Zimbabwe intends to expand the demining capacity in the country with the addition of two more clearance organizations (one of which will be APOPO with its Hero Rats) and a second demining squadron from the national army.  Some 62 million square meters of minefield remain in Zimbabwe and 35 cattle have been killed along with 250 wild animals in the most recent rainy season.  No mention was made of human casualties (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Angola

In Huambo Province, landmine clearance by the National Demining Institute continues.  So far this year, a dozen landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been cleared and destroyed (All Africa).

 

Uganda

The Lord’s Resistance Army continues to impact northern Uganda a decade after the group was forced out of the country.  Over 85 hand grenades have been discovered in hidden caches and authorities have called on residents to report any suspicious items they might find (All Africa).

 

Nigeria & Cameroon

An operation launched against Boko Haram led to the arrests of over 300 rebels and the liberation of 2,000 hostages.  The operation destroyed Boko Haram infrastructure, but without some costs.  At least six Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a landmine (Voice of America).  Following the operation, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo visited northeastern Nigeria to observe the progress.  Obasanjo said that the local governor intends to return all internally displaced people to their homes by the end of the year and the government will provide returnees with livestock.  Obasanjo also said of the region, “Fortunately, there are no land mines in the fields,” so returnees will be able to farm their lands (Voice of America).  Obasanjo’s words proved be wrong as landmines killed five farmers in Yobe state and injured nine others as they were clearing their fields for planting.  The blasts occurred less than two weeks after the farmers had returned to their homes (Y Naija).  In response to the blast, the Nigerian military spokesperson warned the general public that Boko Haram had mined the farm fields, cutting short Mr. Obasanjo’s message of hope (All Africa).

 

Mozambique

The trial of four former employees of the National Demining Institute began in Maputo.  Over the course of two years beginning in 2009, the employees, all members of the Administration and Finance Department, defrauded the government of about 250,000 meticais (~US $5,000) by issuing airline tickets to their family members (All Africa).

 

Sudan

Three members of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), a paramilitary group affiliated with the national army, were killed and several others injured by a landmine at a checkpoint in South Kordofan state.  Fighting in South Kordofan between the government and rebels has intensified recently (Radio Tamazuj).

In Darfur, members of a UN Security Council monitoring group reported the presence of RBK-500 cluster bombs at one of the government’s air bases.  Sudan had previously declared that it did not possess any cluster munitions, but the group’s findings dispute that (Reuters).

 

Algeria

Eight million anti-personnel landmines laid by the French during the colonial era have been cleared by the Algerian army. This report was made in conjunction with the observance of the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness (KUNA).  At another observance event, focusing on the victims of anti-personnel mines, a lawyer working with Algerian civil society called for the amendment of the Mine Ban Treaty to hold the countries that laid the mines responsible for their clearance (Ennahar).  This argument is often used by Egypt as an excuse to remain outside of the Treaty because a significant number of the landmines in Egypt were laid by Britain and Germany during World War II.  However, the Mine Ban Treaty’s cooperation clause responds to this very issue.

 

South Sudan

The civil war in South Sudan that erupted in December 2013 has set back demining activities in the country.  When South Sudan acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty after independence 2011, the government believed it would be landmine free by 2020 and while substantial mine clearance has continued throughout the conflict, the use of new mines and the restrictions on access to mine affected areas means that more time will be needed to finish the job (Shanghai Daily).

South Sudan’s war has been very dangerous for humanitarian workers.  In Yei state, seven employees of the Danish Demining Group were ambushed on their way to the minefields that they were clearing. Two local employees were shot and killed during the ambush and the other five managed to escape.  The killers remain at large.  In response to the attack, Danish Demining Group has suspended all operations in Yei indefinitely (Copenhagen Post; Copenhagen Post).

 

Morocco

Between 1975 and 2012, 831 people were killed and 1705 people injured by landmines in Morocco.  These figures were released by Moroccan authorities.  In addition to the human casualties, livestock and native species, like the fennec fox, have been killed (Moroccan Times).

 

Western Sahara

As part of the local observance of the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness, leaders in Western Sahara called for the removal of the Moroccan-built berm which divides the territory and includes millions of landmines.  Awareness raising activities also took place and representatives from the Chahid Cherif center noted that 151 survivors of landmines were receiving assistance at the center (All Africa).

 

Libya

Derna Shura fighters are using landmines to fight against Islamic State militants in the eastern Libyan city (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, three Libyan soldiers were killed and eight others wounded by a landmine attributed to Islamic State (Arabs Today).

 

Somalia

In Marka town, a landmine placed in the center of the town claimed one life and injured another when a car drove over the mine in the middle of the night (Goobjoog News, no link). In the central region of Galgaduud, three children found a piece of unexploded ordnance and started to play with it.  All three were injured when the item exploded (Goobjoog News, no link).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

May 6, 2016

 


The Month in Mines, February 2016

I think it’s the little touches in landmine stories that really get to me.  In this month’s news, the fact that the reporter felt the need to confirm that when two herders were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, “their animals did not survive the explosion either.”   In Morocco the fact that a young man’s “kicking” of a landmine set it off, provides a visual.  Or in Zimbabwe, a young survivor and his girlfriend cannot marry because he lacks the money to pay for the wedding.  These small flourishes show the humanity and the human tragedy of landmines.

 

Nigeria

In response to the Boko Haram insurgency, several vigilante groups emerged from the local populations in northeastern Nigeria to support the Nigerian army in the campaign against the Islamist group.  In February, five members of the one vigilante group, euphemistically called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), were killed and another four injured when their truck struck a landmine left by Boko Haram (All Africa).  Four Nigerian soldiers were also injured in a separate incident (All Africa).  Cameroonian soldiers are also active against Boko Haram and while Cameroon’s forces have been clearing mined roads and dismantling suspected bomb-making facilities, one Cameroonian soldier was killed and another eight injured when their truck struck a mine on patrol in Nigeria (All Africa).

 

Angola

In 2015 the HALO Trust cleared and destroyed more than 4,000 mines and 25,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the southern town of Cuito Cuanavale (All Africa). In Bie Province, landmine clearance is preparing some 250 hectares of land for industrial development and economic diversification (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, the deputy governor witnessed the destruction of several explosive devices and noted how demining enables agricultural expansion and market access (All Africa).

 

Mali

Two members of the Islamist group, Ansar Dine, were killed when they drove over a landmine planted by other members of the group.  The vehicle was headed towards Kidal and had four pieces of ordnance in the back which might have contributed to the deaths of the occupants (Mali Web). In northeastern Mali, Malian soldiers were victims of a landmine and firearms attack which killed four – it is not clear from the report how many casualties are attributable to either the mine or the guns (The Chronicle). In Mopti in central Mali, three Malian soldiers were killed and two more wounded by a landmine (BBC). Near Gao, another Islamist was killed by the mine he was trying to plant with the intention of attacking a Malian army convoy (Mali Actu).

 

Morocco

Five people were injured, one seriously, when a Moroccan man kicked a landmine in the southern city of Laayoune (Morocco World News).

 

Uganda

The Gulu Landmine Survivors Association (GLSA) in Northern Uganda has petitioned the government for victim assistance support.  Most survivors are living in poverty and prosthetics are prohibitively expensive.  Monica Pilloy, the chair of the GLSA, notes that Ugandan soldiers are entitled to pensions and compensatyion for injuries, but civilian victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, despite the international attention and support for reconstruction, have received little (Uganda Radio Network).

In western Kasese district, the Kayondo Landmine Survivors Association called on the government for amendments to national legislation to reflect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Uganda has ratified (Crooze).

One child was killed and eight others injured when they played with a piece of unexploded ordnance in Kampala.  The football pitch where the boys were playing is opposite an old military barracks (News 24).

 

Zimbabwe

The 426 kilometer stretch of Zimbabwe’s northwestern border with Mozambique, from Mukumbura to Rwenya, is labelled as “minefield # 2.”  130 kilometers have been cleared, removing over 162,000 anti-personnel landmines.  The balance remains to be cleared with the HALO Trust and Zimbabwe’s National Mine Clearance Squadron splitting the duties (Zimbabwe Nation).  The presence of the landmines means that the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border hasn’t been formally fixed and efforts by the African Union Border Commission have been stymied (The Chronicle). The HALO Trust’s work is supported, in part, but the Japanese government and during a visit to the minefield, the Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe called for more awareness of the landmine problem in Zimbabwe and more support from the donor community. Literally putting his money where his mouth is, the ambassador also announced an additional US $635,281 for the project (News Day).  The Zimbabwean parliament has recognized that demining is underfunded and the committee responsible for defense activities has called for additional funds.  With only US $100,000 provided by the government, some members of parliament have suggested taking up a collection among themselves to support the work (News Day).

“Minefield # 1” is near Victoria Falls in the northeast of the country and the National Mine Clearance Squadron had sole responsibility for its clearance.  Declared clear in 2015, over 26 thousand mines were destroyed (Harare 24). The third major minefield (not sure if it is formally known as “Minefield # 3”) is along the southern border, near Sango Border Post, where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa share a border.  One area of the minefield, Gwaivhi community, is a place “where you can hardly find a family that has not been affected in one way or the other by the landmines. Some families lost their members while others have been maimed. Other families lost their livestock. The area is not suitable for human habitation and therefore has no settlements but those on the periphery of the area have been affected.”  Zimbabwe army engineers are clearing the minefield and in 2015 the Defence Minister provided 15 artificial limbs to survivors from the community (Sunday News). 

 

Tanzania

The US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) sent two US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) trainers and a corpsman to work with and train Tanzanian soldiers on EOD techniques as part of the regional command’s capacity building program (AFRICOM).

 

South Africa

A South African man was seriously injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance that he had somehow acquired from an army training ground near his home.  The range is well marked and fenced, but still poses a danger to local residents (Defence Web).

 

Libya

The Libyan army has liberated areas of Benghazi and has warned local residents about the possibility of landmines and other explosive devices.  The army’s engineering teams were sweeping the Laithi neighborhood and asked residents to accompany engineers in order to access homes and secure personal possessions (Al Wasat).  The dangers from ERW were made clear when one soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Benghazi, the second such incident in less than a week (Arabs Today).

 

Sudan

Two herders were killed along with five of their camels by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).

To combat landmines and ERW elsewhere in Sudan, the government of Italy donated 250,000 euros to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) program in Sudan.  the funds will be used to clear 900,000 square meters in Kassala state and provide mine risk education to 5,000 people (United Nations).

 

Burundi / Rwanda

Both Burundi and Rwanda have declared themselves to be anti-personnel landmine free after completing clearance.  Neither army should have these weapons in their arsenal, but allegations that surfaced this month should raise questions about their use.  Some Burundian rebels were interviewed by United Nations monitors in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The rebels claimed that they had been trained in the use of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines by Rwandan army regulars to be able to overthrow the government of Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundian president who recently ran for a third term in violation of the constitution (Voice of America).

 

Somaliland

In Somaliland, a young man who overcame the loss of both arms and his sight to a landmine explosion to attend college and complete his degree has resorted to asking for charity in a newspaper article (Somaliland Informer).

 

Western Sahara

Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), which has been conducting mine risk education programs in Western Sahara for many years, has recently commenced landmine clearance activities in the region.  With two teams now working in the country, NPA is hoping to contribute to a mine-free Western Sahara (NPA).

 

Egypt

Two archaeologists were killed and third wounded at the Tel al-Dafna site near the Suez canal.  The area had been subject to extensive landmine use in the Egypt-Israel wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and the archaeologists apparently set off a mine during their excavations (Mada Masr).

 

Michael P. Moore

March 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, November 2015

Religion comes up surprisingly often in this blog about landmines.  This month’s news roundup includes several Islamist groups and mentions of two Popes.  I think this has more to do with the actors in the conflicts along the Sahel (and Pope Francis’s extraordinary visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic), than anything else, but I would like to hear others’ opinions.  We frequently attribute landmine use to Islamist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and I often wonder if they get a disproportionate share of the blame.  Are some of the mine accidents attributed to these groups placed by non-Islamist groups or remnants from previous conflicts that had no specific religious ties?  If I knew, I would certainly attribute correctly.

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian Army claimed to have encountered many landmines left by Boko Haram as the Army cleared areas of northeastern Nigeria that had been held by the Islamist group.  The presence of landmines has been confirmed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the landmines have hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance (All Africa). With the expulsion of Boko Haram, Nigerian legislators from the region have called upon the Nigerian Army to prioritize the clearance of landmines and other unexploded ordnance to allow displaced persons to return to their homes.  The legislators also sought assistance for victims of landmines (All Africa; Channels TV).

 

Uganda

The visit of Pope Francis to Uganda, part of a three-nation visit on the African continent, has led to reminiscences of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Uganda in 1993.  Included in John Paul II’s itinerary was Uganda’s western district of Kasese which in 1993 was contaminated with landmines remaining from the 1979 invasion by Tanzanian forces to oust Idi Amin (All Africa).  Fortunately, Uganda has cleared all of its known minefields so Pope Francis’s visit did not cause the concern that John Paul II’s had done.

 

Kenya

In Kenya, Pope Francis’s visit was preceded by a landmine blast in the northeast of the country, along the border with Somalia.  According to Kenyan media, five Kenyan soldiers were wounded by a landmine planted in the roadway during a patrol (Standard Media).  However, Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the blast, said at least eight Kenyan soldiers were killed in the attack (All Africa).  I’m not giving too much credibility to Al Shabaab’s claims, but think it is important to highlight that despite all of the efforts against the group, Al Shabaab continues to control significant portions of Somalia and in addition to its operation capacity, the group maintains a robust media function.  Defeating a group like Al Shabaab will require not just military measures, but also social actions to prevent the group from being able to communicate with its intended audience.  The inflation of casualties by Al Shabaab can be seen as an attempt to further show the group’s strength.

A child was injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Wamba.  The boy, a herder, wandered into an area in which British and Kenyan troops had been engaged in live-fire exercises.  After his injuries, the boy was evacuated to a regional referral hospital for surgery.  The evacuation was seen by some as an attempt to cover-up the injury, but the British Army commander has committed to cover all costs of care (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Mine action employees face a number of risks associated with their profession, most specifically from the mines that deminers clear.  In Senegal and Afghanistan, deminers have been kidnapped and held hostage and some have been killed.  However, Somalia poses its own threats.  A few years ago a mine risk educator was kidnapped and held by pirate factions until her rescue by US special forces.  This month, a United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) employee was killed in an apparent murder-for-hire scheme after the UNMAS employee got into an argument with the governor of Beledweyne region.  The governor and UNMAS employee were from different clans which may have complicated their relationship (Hiiraan Online, no link).

 

Mali

Four days after the assault on the Radisson hotel in the capital Bamako, a United Nations peacekeeper was killed near Timbuktu by a landmine planted in the road.  The peacekeeper was part of a convoy.  No word on any other injuries (Reuters).

 

Angola

750,000 square meters of land, contaminated by over 700 explosive remnants of war, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, has been cleared so far this year in Menongue, the capitol of Angola’s Kuando Kubango province.  The cleared land will be used to build houses for area residents (All Africa).

In Huila province, over a thousand kilometers of roads have been cleared in the last decade and over 127,000 explosive remnants of war were destroyed in the process. Also, nearly 2,000 persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors, benefited from social reintegration programs (All Africa).

 

Algeria

Between September and October, Algerian army engineering units cleared and destroyed more than 12,000 landmines dating back to the French colonial period.  In total, more than 800,000 mines have been cleared to date (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Egypt

The Sinai Peninsula continues to be flash point for an Islamist insurgency that arose after the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi’s government.  Near Arish, a group of Islamist gunmen attacked a family killing several members and when one member of the family rushed to the scene to try and help his relatives, he drove over a landmine, killing himself and a child (News 24). In Sheikh Zuwaid, two Bedouins, a mother and her child, were killed by a landmine supposedly planted to target Egyptian military forces (Al Bawaba).

 

Libya

The charges against Saadi Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, will likely include the distribution and use of landmines in defense of his father’s regime in 2011. Other charges include terrorism and the murder of the coach of Tripoli’s Al-Ittihad football club (Middle East Eye).  Dealing with those landmines is a priority for many organizations.  The Libyan Mine Action Center, with the support of UNMAS, will conduct an assessment of the Tawrgha neighborhood of Misrata and provide mine risk awareness to the residents (Relief Web).  In Benghazi, several Libyan soldiers were killed by landmines placed by Islamist groups as the soldiers advanced on positions in around the city (AFP).  And in Derna, three Islamic State members died when karma struck and they drove over a landmine placed other Islamic State members (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

Serious flooding on both sides of the Moroccan-built berm in Western Sahara has likely displaced some of the millions of landmines that lie along the berm.  Plastic and other minimal-metal mines are prone to moving during floods and once the waters recede, mine action organizations will need to assess the likelihood that minefields have been disturbed (ICBL).

 

Sudan

Three children in North Darfur were killed by a grenade that they found and began to play with. Two other children were injured (Radio Dabanga). In the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, a man was killed and his wife maimed when the donkey he was riding on stepped on or kicked a piece of unexploded ordnance (Radio Dabanga).

 

Zimbabwe

To end on a piece of good news, Norwegian Peoples Aid announced that they have cleared their 1,000th landmine along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique.  Hundreds of thousands of mines remain to be cleared by NPA is making good progress and looking to shift to new work sites (NPA).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 18, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, October 2015

We have tended not to cover cluster munitions as a specific topic here at Landmines in Africa. That decision has been based on the fact that cluster munitions have historically been less of an issue in Africa than elsewhere (e.g., Lebanon, Kosovo, Laos and too many other places).  However, cluster bombs have been recently used in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan and as you will see in the stories below, possibly in Nigeria.  Further in the past, cluster munitions contamination in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation wars and civil wars in those countries.  In Somalia this month, the government acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans these weapons, becoming the 97th country to do so (Horseed Media).  African nations played a key role in the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on these weapons going forward.

 

Angola

In Luanda Angolan authorities seized 14 landmines in the course of a series of arrests as the capital city witnessed a spasm of violent crime (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, authorities collected another three landmines from citizens as part of a voluntary disarmament program (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost nine thousand people have received mine risk awareness messages since the start of the year (All Africa).  To address the country’s mine clearance needs, 36 deminers have been trained and deployed to Cunene province where at least one mine incident occurred in June (All Africa) and 18 security and police personnel participated in a course on the management of humanitarian disarmament activities (All Africa).

Landmines also feature in Angola’s foreign affairs. Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama, traveled to Angola and discussed with Angolan officials the development of a trans frontier park for wildlife and the care of many Angolan elephants who migrated to Botswana to escape the landmines planted during Angola’s wars (All Africa).  During a visit to Japan, Angola’s minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration met with leaders from the Japanese Mine Action Service which clears landmines in Bengo province (All Africa).

 

Somalia

A landmine killed one soldier and wounded another in Afgoye Town’s animal market (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army discovered several caches of cluster bombs in Adamawa State as the military continued its pursuit of Boko Haram.  The army then warned residents to be on the lookout for other caches (All Africa).  Later analysis of the cluster bombs confirmed that the Nigerian army had found French-made BLG-66 (“Beluga”) munitions which can only be used from aircraft which Boko Haram does not possess.  In fact, the Cluster Munition Coalition suggests that the found cluster munitions had originated with the Nigerian army and had somehow found their way into Boko Haram’s hands.  Boko Haram could use the bomblets as part of an improvised explosive device, but evidence points to the weapons’ origin as being with the national army (All Africa).  If such is the case, then the Nigerian army needs to explain how its own weapons could be found in areas controlled by Boko Haram.

Also, outside of the Boko Haram conflict zone in northeastern Nigeria, the army is operating in central Plateau State where a simmering conflict between the Berom and Fulani ethnic groups is spreading.  The army discovered several landmines in a road near the village of Gyambus (All Africa).

Abandoned and unexploded ordnance dating back to the Biafra War of the 1960s continues to plague Nigeria.  The government just settled a case brought by several individuals who sued the government, alleging that the government had failed to clear landmines and abandoned caches of explosives from residential areas.  Specifically, the suit sought to have the abandoned stockpile in a residential neighborhood of Owerri in Imo State violated the human rights of the persons living there.  The final settlement of the case will be made in January 2016 (All Africa).

 

Egypt

During an illegal hunting trip in a natural reserve in Egypt’s Red Sea governorate, a car drove over a landmine likely dating to the late 1960s killing one hunter and wounding another.  The men intended to use falcons to hunt in the area which is popular for the activities despite its being banned.  According to the director of the Cairo-based landmines struggle center, landmine clearance only takes place in Egypt if there is a significant financial incentive to do.  No word on the conditions of the falcon (Cairo Post; All Africa).

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Safe Schools Declaration seeks commitments from nations and their armies to avoid using schools for any military activities.  In one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the army had occupied the school’s buildings for a period and then dumped unused explosives into the latrines which had to be cleared by demining teams before the school could be re-opened for its intended purpose (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

While Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was in India, the acting president, Phelekeleza Mphoko, visited the Gonakudzingwa Restriction Camp in Gonarezhou National Park.  The Camp had been used by the Rhodesian government to isolate nationalist leaders like Joshua Nkomo during the liberation war.  The area around the Camp, like much of Gonarezhou, is contaminated with landmines which limits access to the site.  Mphoko called for clearance of the mines and restoration of the Camp as a museum (All Africa).

 

Mali

A civilian convoy was attacked by “terrorists” who used rocket launchers and small arms to kill six people and would at least two.  The convoy was under the protection of security forces and the attack began when one of the vehicles struck a landmine planted in the road (Press TV).  In another incident, three civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine and two of the United Nations peacekeepers who arrived on the scene were injured by a second mine.  The mines were located near the United Nations base at Tessalit near Kidal (Reuters).  In a third incident, three French special forces operators were injured in an unspecified area of northern Mali (Agence France Presse).

 

Uganda

The Orthopedic Workshop at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, originally set up to respond to the needs of landmine survivors in northern Uganda, is unable to meet the demands of its clients.  Each month 30 patients come to the Workshop seeking prosthetic limbs and orthotic appliances but no one has received any items since June when the Workshop’s funding ran out.  Supported by the Italian NGO AVSI, the Workshop does not appear to receive any funds from the government and the cost of prosthetics and orthotics is prohibitive to its clients (Uganda Radio Network).  The Ugandan government must step in and provide the support it has committed to give under the Mine Ban Treaty and other agreements.

 

Mozambique

In 2007 an explosion ripped through an ammunition depot in Mozambique’s capitol Maputo setting off a chain reaction of explosions that killed more than a hundred people and injured another 500.  Ordnance remains at the depot even today, but plans are in place to clear the unexploded ordnance and create a public park on the site.  APOPO and the HALO Trust will work together to make the site safe for its transformation into a multifunction space that includes a zoo, a water park and camp ground (US News and World Report).

 

Somaliland

The German Deputy Ambassador to Somalia visited the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland and observed the German-funded work of the HALO Trust which is clearing minefields near the Ethiopian border.  The Deputy Ambassador also met with trainees who will soon be conducting the first comprehensive survey of Somaliland’s minefields as well as other German-funded development initiatives in the region (Somaliland Press).

 

Cameroon

The US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) is providing a number of landmine-detecting vehicles to the Cameroon army in response to the threat of mines placed by Boko Haram.  The vehicles would also protect soldiers from explosions should the vehicles miss a mine (Voice of America).

 

Libya

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and United Nations Support Mission in Libya have trained 15 Libyans (14 men and one woman) in non-technical survey to enhance the capacity of Libya to assess the contamination of the country from landmines and explosive remnants of war.  The ongoing civil war in the country will limit the extent to which this training can be used (UNSMIL).

 

South Sudan

The UNMAS chief in South Sudan told reporters that 12 million square meters of land in South Sudan has been cleared of mines and explosive remnants of war.  Despite the ongoing conflict, some 2,800 villages have been surveyed and the residents educated on risk awareness.  He did note that there is the possibility of some residual contamination in Juba and other areas that have been cleared and South Sudanese should report any items they discover (The Niles).

 

Algeria

15 anti-personnel landmines were seized by the Algerian army along with a number of other items from smuggling groups that had been trafficking people and contraband (All Africa).

 

China in Africa

China has committed to providing US $100 million in military aid to the African Union standby force and will provide support to 10 landmine clearance programs in Africa.  The exact countries to be supported were not announced, but will likely be in countries of strategic interest to China (News Day).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 20, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, August 2015

Unfortunately, August was not the listless dog days of summer when it came to mine action. The continuing conflicts along the Sahel and in North Africa led to several landmine incidents and casualties.  Interestingly, in Uganda and in Egypt, we are seeing mine affected communities turn to court to compel governments to act to address their mine clearance obligations and ensure the rights of survivors.  It is a shame that such efforts are necessary, but if they are successful, Senegal, Western Sahara and other countries might be ripe for similar legal actions.

Western Sahara

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights released a report documenting human rights abuses committed against the people of Western Sahara by the government of Morocco which has claimed the territory.  The report, covering the first half of 2015, noted several deaths due to landmines used by the Moroccan government in the berm which splits the territory (All Africa).  Landmines are also present within Morocco’s recognized borders and in August, a young Saharawi was injured by a mine near Tantan city in southern Morocco.  The mine was one of thousands laid by the Polisario Front prior to the Front’s renouncing the use of the weapon (All Africa).

Angola

In Benguela Province, more than 2,000 landmines have been cleared from over 150 million square meters of land since the end of the conflict in 2002 (All Africa).  In Bie Province, mine risk education reached 7,544 people in the first half of 2015 (All Africa) and the HALO Trust cleared a quarter million square meters of land (All Africa).  Over a hundred pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been cleared from Malanje city to make room for the planned broadcasting center for Public Television Angola (All Africa).  The local organization, APACOMINAS, cleared 30,000 square meters of landmines from Pedra Cuca in Huambo province (All Africa).

As part of the broader effort against landmines in Angola, CNIDAH (the National Intersectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid) hosted a working meeting to approve the 2015 – 2016 operational plan for mine action in Cunene province (All Africa).

At a General Meeting of members, the Centro de Vida Independente de Angola approved a four year strategic plan to provide landmine survivor assistance and reintegration support for disabled former soldiers (All Africa).

South Sudan

The civil war in South Sudan has displaced hundreds of thousands of children who cannot attend school.  Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan report that students prioritized returning to school because of the safety they felt in schools and because student learn about the dangers of landmines (All Africa).

The United Nations Mine Action Service and Handicap International hosted a training for landmine survivors in South Sudan and provided small business assistance to enable survivors to be economically independent (ReliefWeb).

Uganda

Victim assistance services in Uganda are woefully lacking.  According to reports, medical care available at public facilities does not include the costs of medicines and prescriptions which patients must obtain from external pharmacies at cost.  In 2011, a landmine victim died at the Mulago hospital in the capitol of Kampala when the drugs needed for surgery were unavailable (All Africa). In northern Uganda, landmine survivors have been forced to take the government to court to receive the same treatment as other groups of victims, but even if they are successful in their case, much of the compensation may be claimed in legal fees (All Africa).

Along the Ugandan boder with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has re-emerged.  In the 1990s, the ADF was responsible for laying landmines in Kasese district and other western Ugandan districts injuring dozens of people.  Some of the survivors of those mines remain isolated and traumatized from their injuries despite the support of groups like the Anti-Mines Network – Rwenzori (All Africa).

Zimbabwe

At a ceremony to provide seven survivors with artificial limbs, the Zimbabwean Defence Minister said the government was looking to add a second demining team to the army and that the government was committed to the global goal of clearing all landmines by 2025 (All Africa).  To boost clearance capacity in Zimbabwe, APOPO and its landmine-detecting rats will soon begin to work in Zimbabwe, joining Norwegian Peoples Aid and the HALO Trust as another humanitarian demining partner (All Africa).

Somalia

To address the country’s widespread contamination by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, Somalia has created its first explosive ordnance disposal and landmine clearance team.  The full scale of contamination is not known, but Security Minister called the team “a big hope for Somalia” (Hiiraan Online, no link).

In Bardere, Somalia security forces seized a cache of weapons from a suspected Al Shabaab member’s house.  The cache included automatic weapons and landmines (Wacaal Media, no link).

In Lamu, Kenya, Al Shabaab fighters briefly seized control of a village and lectured the residents, telling the residents that Al Shabaab would continue to use landmines to fight the Kenyan security forces.  Fear of landmines hindered the local Red Cross’s ability to reach the villagers after Al Shabaab departed (All Africa; All Africa).  In an earlier incident, Al Shabaab killed witnesses who reported a landmine attack that targeted police forces (All Africa).

Al Shabaab’s use of landmines against security forces in Kenya and Somalia has been part of a deliberate asymmetrical campaign that began as the peacekeeping force of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and allied forces from the national government of Somalia, the Kenyan army and the Ethiopian army, drove the Islamists from their safe havens in Somalia.  In earlier posts we’ve written about reports of AMISOM and Somali army units firing indiscriminately into crowds after their vehicles have struck landmines.  This month, AMISOM troops were accused of deliberately entering a home and shooting civilians after their convoy struck a mine in the town of Merka.  At the time, the residents of the home were celebrating a wedding and witnesses accused AMISOM fighters of killing six civilians.  Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation of the incident as AMISOM conducted its own investigation. AMISOM’s investigation led to indictments of the soldiers involved and an apology from AMISOM to the family (Horseed Media; Horseed Media; Horseed Media).

Tunisia

Two soldiers died from their wounds and two others were injured but survived after an engineering unit tried to clear a landmine found between Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine (All Africa).

Nigeria

Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbaio, committed his government to demining the farms and regions that have been liberated from Boko Haram (All Africa). At the same time, an army spokesperson announced that the engineering division was surveying roads and clearing landmines in Borno State (All Africa). Two soldiers were killed and two others seriously wounded during landmine clearance activities in Gudumbali town (The Cable).

Mali

Three Malian soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a mine near the town of Diafarabe in central Mali (Reuters). Two Cambodian peacekeepers assigned to a landmine clearance unit with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were injured when their vehicle struck a mine near Ansogo in northern Mali (All Africa; Khmer Times).

Sudan

South Sudanese fleeing the civil war in their country have arrived in the disputed region of Abyei as refugees.  The camp used by the refugees is within suspected minefields that have not yet been cleared and the refugees risk danger as they forage for food, water and firewood.  In central Darfur’s Nierteti region, residents have called for landmine and ERW awareness and survey.  According to residents, ERW presents a significant risk in the area and no mine action activities have taken place in over a year (All Africa).

To date, 95 square kilometers in Sudan have been cleared of landmines, but another 30 kilometers remain and much of the remaining landmine to be cleared is in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States (UNMAS).  In Blue Nile state, a truck with several passengers struck a landmine near Jebel Gilda Mol killing five people and injuring five more (Relief Web).

Egypt

Millions of landmines remain in Egypt’s Western Desert dating back from World War II.  The mines, laid by British and German forces, have been a source of contention between the modern day governments with Egypt calling for Britain, especially, to clear the mines laid by its forces.  To force action, a lawsuit has been filed by an individual and Egypt’s Administrative Court has ruled in his favor and ordered Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call on the British government to take responsibility for the mines and their removal.  The Ministry and the British government are reviewing the court’s order and lawsuit to decide a response (Daily News Egypt).

In addition to the minefields of the Western Desert, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is also heavily contaminated by landmines.  Two members of Egypt’s anti-terrorism unit were killed and three injured by a mine in the Sinai during an operation to try and free a Croatian being held by the local branch of the Islamic State (Eurasia Review).

Senegal

Six months and a lot of political will is all that would be required to finish clearing the landmines in Senegal’s Casamance region according to Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) which has withdrawn from the country in protest towards the government’s unwillingness to meet its clearance obligations.  Many of the mines that remain were laid by the government and not by the rebels.  Government-laid mines are used to protect military positions, but NPA and other humanitarian deminers have not been allowed to speak with representatives of Senegal’s army.  After NPA withdrew, the European Union suspended its funding of humanitarian mine action in the Casamance.  Observers believe that after thirty years of conflict, too many people in the Casamance, from both the government and the rebels, benefit from the continuation of the conflict and the presence of landmines confirms the conflict’s existence (IRIN News).

Algeria

Nearly doubling its pace from the previous month, the Algerian army announced it had cleared more than 7,300 landmines laid by French forces during the colonial period (All Africa).  Good to see some people don’t make excuses.

Michael P. Moore

September 22, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org